This is day three of creative salads and I’m feeling pretty good about this one: whole wheat macaroni with edamame, shredded carrots, cabbage, and sweet crunchy seaweed tossed in a peanut dressing. Peanut sauce is super easy to make. The main ingredients are: peanut butter, hot water (you can use the pasta cooking water), soy sauce, and fresh grated ginger. From there you can spice it up with: garlic, fresh squeezed lime juice, brown sugar, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, fish sauce, sriracha, cayenne pepper, etc. For this salad I actually used sunflower seed butter which works great (it still tastes like peanut sauce). Then I added a little hot water, soy sauce, meyer lemon juice, ginger, sesame oil and sweet chili sauce. Exact proportions don’t seem to matter: just taste as you go. Actually that’s not entirely true: go easy on the soy sauce. If you want the sauce to be more saucy, use more water. If you want it to be thick like a dip—yep, you guessed it, use less water. Peanut sauce pasta salads are great for picnics and potlucks, because you don’t have to worry about refrigeration and they taste great at room temperature. Plus, they can be veganlicious, like this one. Since this salad has some strong flavors, I kept the sides pretty mild: plain yogurt with blueberry jam, strawberries and whole wheat pretzel twists. And now, it’s spring break time for us. I’ll be back in a week with more creative salads.
Today, I’m continuing with my creative salad kick. I wanted to create a healthy version of that 80’s monstrosity know as the taco salad. Remember those? A big, puffy deep-fried flour tortilla bowl loaded with ground beef, canned refried beans, shredded cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce, salsa and a pile of sour cream. Seriously, it’s a stretch to call such a concoction a “salad.” However, the general idea of making salad with taco flavorings is genius. Since we had Make Your Own Taco Night on Tuesday, I had all sorts of taco things: a nice pot of pinto beans, some of my crazy tofu taco filling, cilantro, feta cheese, avocado, etc. For this yummy, crunchy salad I started with some green cabbage and kale, which I salted and let drain for about an hour. Do you know the trick of salting your cabbage for slaw? I think I learned this from Mark Bittman and it makes a world of difference. Toss some shredded or chopped cabbage is a colander with a bit of kosher salt and let it drain for awhile. The salt will draw the water out of the cabbage, so your slaw won’t get nasty and watery. It also slightly tenderizes (is this the right word to use?) the cabbage. If you accidentally add too much salt, just rinse off the cabbage before making your slaw or salad. Once I had my drained cabbage, I tossed in some of the pinto beans (I first rinsed the broth off), a little tofu taco filling, avocado chunks, and some crumbled feta cheese. I made a simple dressing by whisking some olive oil into fresh squeezed meyer lemon juice, a little agave syrup, and some chili powder. If you want to make this salad vegan, just skip the feta cheese. I doesn’t really need it, but the kiddos are crazy for feta. I made enough of this salad for my lunch and added some spicy corn tomato-less salsa from Trader Joe’s. I am literally eating this salad right now (I know, one shouldn’t eat in front of the computer: bad me) and, I can tell you this: I am in love with this salad. I want to eat it everyday for lunch. It is amazingly delicious and you should make it the next time you have taco leftovers.
So yesterday I feeling in a bit of a lunch rut. My new plan to get out of said lunch rut: creative salads. If I actually get organized I can make big salads and the whole family could eat yummy salads for lunch. For some reason this thought never occurred to me: making family lunches. We all take our lunch (well, I do when I’m not on sabbatical and can make fried eggs for lunch), so it makes sense. However, I did not have this thought yesterday. Yesterday, I was just trying to figure out a different way to incorporate veggies into lunches for the kids. My genius idea was a veggie filled mac and cheese salad of sorts. I started with one of those individual microwaveable packets of mac and cheese from Trader Joe’s (I know, somewhat ghetto—it should be homemade whole grain pasta with real cheese but life is what it is). In the last minute of microwaving, I added some frozen veggies: edamame, corn and peas. While the mac and cheese was still warm, I tossed in some finely chopped kale and little carrot rounds. In order to avoid that whole cold mac and cheese solid congealed mass of pasta thing, I added a tiny bit of olive oil and mayo. There was a tiny bit left over which I ate with my avocado sandwich for lunch, and I’m pleased to report that this salad wis darn fine. For the kiddos’ lunches, I served the mac and cheese salad with some edamame rice crackers, because I’m always buying weird crackers.
I’m feeling a little lunch fatigued this week—like I’m running out of new ideas. Good thing next week is spring break for the kiddos; I think I need a week off from lunch making to get my groove back. That being said, today’s lunch is not too bad. The little skinny bread sandwich has a delicious salmon tuna salad spread. How do you make salmon tuna salad? Just like you make your favorite tuna salad, except use a can of tuna and a can of red salmon. The kiddos are salmon freaks; they love the pink meat, so anything with salmon in it is usually a hit. The cinnamon apples are making another appearance thanks to Lily who’s obsessed with them. I made a little yogurt dip for the apples with some carob powder, sunflower seed butter and plain yogurt. It’s so good, I could eat a vat of it with a spoon. But, I exercised some self control and made just enough for today’s lunches. Carob powder is great for chocolatey tasting stuff (smoothies, dips, energy bars), because it’s naturally sweeter than cocoa powder. Lately, the kids have not been doing the best job on their veggies. I don’t think Iain ate a single carrot today. Carrot fatigue? Boredom with crudite? Clearly I’m going to have to get more creative with raw veggies.
Sometimes I make elaborate lunches. And some days, I just want to keep it simple. Today’s lunch took only a few minutes to make, and those minutes were spent chopping up strawberries and veggies. The strawberries are paired with some whole milk plain yogurt (almost rich enough to be Greek style) and honey. The carrots and cucumbers have a little creamy feta dressing on the side. That funky looking thing in the upper left corner is a non-traditional Irish soda bread biscuit. I used a Food 52 recipe that I modified by substituting whole wheat flour and oat brain for the all purpose flour. The biscuits are a sweet and buttery take on Irish soda bread—not exactly traditional, but quite yummy. They were great with the full on corned beef boiled dinner that I made for St. Paddy’s Day.
Last night I made gnocchi salad and a savory quick bread (with ham, cheese and black olives) for dinner. Today, Iain got gnocchi salad with the ham and cheese bread for lunch. I used this recipe as a starting point for the bread, but substituted white whole wheat and spelt flour for the all purpose flour and used plain jane black olives instead of Niçoise olives. The bread is not the healthiest as it contains a whole stick of butter, but you could probably substitute coconut oil or olive oil. Quick breads are pretty forgiving this way. For fruit today, I packed some strawberries, chunks of white sapote, and dried mango. I also had some of the leftover gnocchi salad for lunch, and I think it was much better when it was served fresh at room temperature. The texture of the gnocchi seems to suffer after a night in the fridge. So, if you’re going to make a gnocchi salad, plan on eating it within a few hours of making it.
I just love green tortillas. These ones are spinach herb wraps and they have the best color. Green is kind of a theme this week since St. Patrick’s Day is on Sunday. This wrap/burrito has refried beans, cheese, salsa and this delicious and decadent carrot spinach dip that I got at the farmers market. As you can see from the oozing crispy cheese, I baked these burritos for a few minutes to crisp them up slightly. I threw some grape tomatoes in with the burrito, because the red and green combo looks awesome. For salty carbs, I packed gorgonzola cheese crackers (bizarre product) and pretzel crisps. For a touch of the exotic, I included some tropical fruits in this lunch: dried mango in the treat tray and white sapote with the strawberries. I feel like I’ve had something similar to white sapote in either Mexico or Jamaica, but it was called a custard apple—which is actually a pretty good description of this sweet, creamy fruit.
Today’s sandwich is a pretty hearty one for the kiddos: smoked turkey, thick sliced sharp cheddar, and thinly sliced cucumbers with a bit of mayo on whole wheat skinny bread. Since the sandwich has meat and cheese, I kept the sides nice and light: more cucumbers, carrot slices, strawberries and satsumas. It was pretty warm here today and the kids always seem to eat less for lunch on a hot day. Each of them came home with half a sandwich in their lunchbox. But, after some iced chai tea and a little quiet time, they managed to polish off the remains of their lunches.
Do you ever feel like having waffles for dinner? Mmm, I do. Yesterday I decided to try making kale waffles—thus proving that I can, in fact, add kale to almost anything. A quick search on Pinterest for spinach waffles yielded all sorts of good ideas. I decided to use this recipe as a starting point, because it sounded interesting and had no added sugar. I omitted the protein powder, because I didn’t have any protein powder. I also used plain whole milk yogurt instead of vanilla Greek yogurt. Naturally, I substituted kale for the spinach, because, let’s face it: kale is one louder. It all turned out okay. The batter came together in a few minutes using the Vitamix and the waffles were the most gorgeous shade of green on the inside. For dinner I served the waffles with plain yogurt, applesauce, maple syrup and veggie sausages. For lunch, I packed an itty bitty container of maple syrup, since the kiddos insist of having maple syrup in every single square. I can’t blame them: I also want a little maple syrup in every single square. The waffles are fairly light, so I included some hearty sides: plain yogurt with cherry jam, small slices of sharp cheddar cheese, a big date, carrots, and pretzel crisps. I think I just might have to make these waffles again on Sunday for St. Paddy’s Day.
The weather was gorgeous here on Sunday, so naturally it was a grilling day. The kiddos love chicken drumsticks (why?), so I decided to throw some on the grill. The chicken was marinated in teriyaki sauce, which always makes for some good flavor. I find that most chicken is about as bland as tofu and needs some help with a decent marinade. I used to make my own teriyaki marinade until I discovered Soy Vay Island Teriyaki, which is amazingly good. While I was buying the chicken, I picked up a package of little red new potatoes which I initially planned to roast. Then it hit me, the perfect potato salad: skin-on boiled potatoes with edamame in a meyer lemon dressing. This salad was a revelation. It’s my new favorite. The kiddos loved it. The husband loved it. It’s got no mayo or dairy, so I can take it on picnics without encasing it in ice packs. Also in this amazingly delicious lunch is Trader Joe’s crazy good cheese of the month: pesto gouda. If you have a TJ’s in your area, you must try it. It’s great with some salty Triscuits.
*Cooking Tip: Potato and Edamame Salad
- 2 lbs small new potatoes
- 1 cup shelled edamame
- green onions, minced
- celery, minced
- the juice and zest of one large meyer lemon
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Chipotle Tabasco (optional)
I didn’t actually measure anything for this salad, because I made it up as I went along. I boiled the potatoes and transferred them to a colander with a slotted spoon. Then I boiled the edamame (I used frozen) in the already hot water for 4 minutes. While all this boiling was happening, I minced up some green onions and celery, because that’s what I had. It think this salad would be great with some fresh herbs—mint or cilantro. I juiced the meyer lemon into a large bowl, added a small squeeze of honey and about a teaspoon of mustard. Then I whisked in some olive oil and added some salt, pepper, and a few shakes of Chipotle Tabasco, because everything tastes better with a few shakes of Chipotle Tabasco. I tasted the dressed, added a little more olive oil, tasted again and it was yummers. By this point, the potatoes were cool enough to slice in half, and everything went into the dressing. I served the salad at room temperature, but I’m sure it would also taste good straight out of the fridge.
I’m a little behind on my Friday lunch post. On Saturday, we drove down to Santa Barbara for Princess Day at the Santa Barbara Zoo. If you have a daughter (or son) who is into princesses, or if you were ever into princesses, Princess Day is awesome: colored drapery, lots of luverly young ladies dressed up as princesses, makeup and hair booths, castle bouncy houses, you name it. I love the Santa Barbara Zoo, except for the food. Like most zoos, parks, museums, kid-friendly venues, the food is both over-priced and atrocious. Seriously, I don’t want to have nachos, churros and Coke for lunch. The first time we visited the Santa Barbara Zoo, I noticed that most of the organized, well-prepared moms were carting in their own picnic lunches (at least the zoo allows this and there are many gorgeous picnic spots complete with views of the ocean in the distance). For Princess Day, I knew I had to pack a princess-worthy picnic. So, I made chick pea salad wraps, tuna pasta salad, and peanut butter and jelly thumbprint cookies. Sadly, I neglected to photograph this elegant picnic. You’ll just have to trust me that is was delish.
Since I was in a flurry of picnic-making on Friday, I completely forgot about Friday’s lunch: meyer lemon chia pudding with spinach tortellini, strawberries and kiwis. Usually, when I make two packages of totellini, there is just enough left over for two small lunch portions. For lunches, I skip the marinara sauce and just toss the pasta in a little good olive oil and parmesan. The meyer lemon chia pudding was an experiment, because, between our neighbor’s and our meyer lemon trees, we have meyers coming out of our eyeballs.
Meyer Lemon Chia Pudding
- 2 cups of milk
- 4 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- the juice and zest of one medium-sized meyer lemon
- a little vanilla extract
- shredded coconut
Combine everything except the shredded coconut and refrigerate in a cover container overnight (I use and old pasta sauce jar). If you think about it, periodically shake the container to evenly distribute the chia seeds. The chia seeds will plump up and thicken the pudding. Serve with a little sprinkling of shredded coconut, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a dollop of whipped cream if you’re feeling fancy and want this to be more dessert-like. The pudding is light and refreshing and not too sweet.
Today’s lunch is, yet again, another repurposed dinner. Last night I made some salmon quinoa cakes and there were a few leftover. I smashed up the salmon cakes to cover a round of skinny bread, put a slice of sharp cheddar on top, and baked until the cheese was nice and melty with a few crispy edges. I just love crispy cheese edges. Then I was sensible, and added some fresh strawberries and unsweetened applesauce with a sprinkling of cinnamon. But, then I chopped up some celery sticks and all reason left my mind. I filled the celery sticks with cookie butter (!). I know, I know. That darn jar of cookie butter is still sitting in my pantry taunting me with its decadent sweetness. I swear I’ve only bought the one jar. My excuse is that I’m trying to comply with the peanut-free policy at Iain’s school. Yep, that’s it. So just pretend that these celery sticks are filled with some healthy nut butter. That’s what I intended.